India still seduces me! I have swings of fascination and repulsion there like nowhere else. India is secular, spiritual, powerful and profane. She slams your senses with breathtaking art, architecture, temples, textiles and jewels in Bollywood colors and gorgeous people. Then you are suddenly inches from heartbreak when desperately poor women tap on your car window holding glassy eyed babies, when deformed men and children wander begging between cars, cows and motor rickshaws in dusty polluted thoroughfares. So why do I go when I know what I will inevitably witness?
In an environment of 1.5 billion people and an ancient (now illegal but quietly suppressed) caste system, a luxe history of the Maharajas and a history of British colonization, the mystical nature of India captivates. Even today, urban India is still separated from rural India by cultural and economic chasms like many developing countries but what I love most are the people. There is an indomitable will there and in my experiences, great kindness and creativity. North to South, there are vast differences in food, languages, dress and personality. On my first visit to India I encountered the man from this painting, and the earnest expression in his eyes reflected his great pride and authentic desire to make our stay wonderful. Every time I see this painting, I reconnect to him.
In another encounter, young teenaged boys gathered by our car, selling their miniature paintings. The boy from whom I bought one brought me to tears with his heart to heart eye contact, prevalent throughout India. Is this what brings me back? No matter where you go, chatting up a tea shop owner in Delhi, or sitting with exiled widows rescued from abusive home situations, I had some esoteric personal connection. Early evening while walking down a narrow alley that runs parallel to the burning ghats alongside the sacred Ganges River, a funeral procession was marching toward us, drummers drumming, horns wailing while perched above them was the wrapped body of their departed. Such an intimate witnessing to the cycle of life. On the other side of the city of Varanasi, a century old loom in a dimly lit room was being manipulated with painstaking focus while creating one of India’s most coveted silk and gold saris that will be passed down through generations. I wonder if he weaves with that in mind.
I’m not naive. I know there’s a dark side to India as there is everywhere. As I read the book Shantaram, watched the movie Slumdog Millionairre and another documentary by the BBC called Welcome to India, one is moved by the ingenuity, struggles and dignity of India’s poor. Turn on the news and you’re battered with stories of violence and depravation. The goal of the puppet masters is to create fear and a daily diet of that can’t be healthy or productive, can it? Nor is venting my ‘stuff’ or being a sounding board for others’ issues worth digging that deep rut of dissatisfaction that is an inevitable aftermath. For my personal evolution, travel has been the best reality check. What I get from the sensory overload of India is a reminder that we are all vastly capable, truly gifted with creativity, innately geared toward kindness and resourceful beyond our wildest imaginings! I leave India committed to being that force for good, devoted to my quest for learning with a happy contentment and paying forward all that kindness I receive there. I invite you to go to India. Suspend your judgement and beliefs. This is how we see eye to eye, and heart to heart with our fellow Earth travelers and begin to heal the divisions that having fresh perspective facilitates.
When you do go, go with smart people who dedicate themselves to your best interests so you can observe and participate in a culture and country so rare and profound that your life will never be the same.
Where do you go and what do you read that give you these feelings? I’d love to know!!
P.S. Here’s the link to the documentary, Welcome To India I promise it will move you deeply.